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State of Illinois sues pharma giant that paid off doctors for product promotion


Pharma corruption

(NaturalNews) The attorney general for the state of Illinois has filed suit against a controversial pharmaceutical firm for allegedly using deceptive marketing practices that included paying an indicted physician thousands for phony speaking events in order to help sell its signature pain drug.

As reported by Pro Publica, the firm, Insys Therapeutics, was one of more than 400 Big Pharma companies that have made payments to such doctors, but its shenanigans have received much more attention.

To be sure, it isn't unusual for pharmaceutical companies to pay doctors with histories of illicit behavior for consulting with them or speaking about their products. A ProPublica study recently completed found that more than 2,300 physicians with discipline records in five states have received payments from pharmaceutical and medical device firms since 2013.

But, according to investigations in a number of states, the business model Insys relied upon saw huge payments going to doctors who prescribed their drugs most frequently, even if they had histories of disciplinary actions or outright criminality. The payments were largely related to a fentanyl-based drug, Subsys, approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for patients suffering from cancer-related pain that is resistant to other opioids.

'Few, if any, cancer patients'

Insys was the subject of previous media reports in 2014 and 2015 by CNBC and The New York Times. In June 2015, a Connecticut nurse pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks related to speaking payments she got from Insys while she was the top prescriber of Subsys to Medicaid patients in the state.

In February, a sales representative in Alabama pleaded guilty to fraud charges, while in April, a district manager and sales rep pleaded not guilty in New York to all charges in relation to kickbacks to providers who were also involved in speaking arrangements.

In the most recent suit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Cook County, the state wants to impose financial penalties on Insys, while barring the company from selling any products in the state. Madigan says that the company regularly marketed its mainstay pain med for off-label uses, such as treating chronic migraines.

Instead of building relationships with physicians who treat patients with cancer, the company "instead directed its promotion and marketing in Illinois to high-volume opioid prescribers who are not oncologists or pain specialists who treat cancer," says the suit.

The highest-volume prescriber for Insys was Dr. Paul Madison, who wrote 58 percent of Subsys prescriptions in Illinois, though he treated "few, if any, cancer patients." Madison was indicted in late 2012 on federal charges of making false claims by billing insurers for procedures that were not performed. The indictment says that Insys sales reps were aware of Madison's indictment, and were also aware of his questionable prescribing habits.

'Stick with him'

The suit states that in August 2012, the company's then-CEO, Michael Babich, received an email from a sales rep who said that Madison ran "a very shady pill mill and only accepts cash." In addition, the suit alleges that Madison "basically just shows up to sign his name on the prescription pad, if he shows up at all."

Then in October, the same sales rep sent another email stating that Madison had called him personally to say that he was "really under the eye of the DEA, and that he planned on getting patients started on Subsys in Indiana."

For his part, Babich appeared unconcerned, replying that he was "very confident that Dr. Madison will be your 'go to physician.' Stick with him." But then, under increasing pressure and investigations, Babich resigned in 2015.

In all, Insys paid Madison in excess of $87,000 for speeches, food and travel between 2013 and 2015, ProPublica reported.

Sources:

ProPublica.org

NYTimes.com

CNBC.com

Reuters.com

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